The big Jaialdi festival in Boise last month was a showcase for several new Basque cultural efforts, including a group of dancers from California. About 50 teens from all over the state joined together and created the Hartza dance group.
The teens will join in the year’s final performance Saturday Sept. 4 at a dinner-dance that is part of the annual Chino Basque Club festival. It’s befitting that the group will finish the summer festival season in Chino, where many of the teens met at Udaleku, the annual Basque culture camp in 2009 and formed a tight-knit group.
Teens from San Francisco, Bakersfield, Chino, Los Banos and Fresno, as well as smaller Basque communities, participated in the troupe.
“I thought it was really cool, to just come together and make more friends,” said Christina Etcheverry, a dancer from San Francisco.
Dance directors John and Jenny Ysursa formed the troupe to unite dancers from across the Golden State to perform at Basque picnics over the summer, including the huge Jaialdi 2010 international festival in Boise. Hartza is Basque for bear, California’s mascot.
The group learned dances from the Baztan valley in the province of Nafarroa, or Navarra, on the Spanish side of the Basque Country.
John Ysursa said the Baztan dances lent themselves to such a group because they are mainly circle dances that don’t require an exact number of dancers or much practice. He put videos of the dances online on a special Hartza page, so dancers could practice with their groups at home.
“The dances are so simple. They are easy to learn,” said Jenny Ysursa. “The tricky part about it is that you don’t call the steps and you have to memorize them.”
Just a few practices were scheduled, during some bigger Basque events like the Kern County Basque Festival in Bakersfield, or this year’s Udaleku in Reno, when many of the youngsters were likely to be in attendance.
“There wasn’t one practice that everyone came to,” noted Etcheverry.
Nevertheless, the Jaialdi performance was fairly flawless, and the group’s large size commanded attention.
“It was a really neat way to get a lot of those kids together,” said Jenny Ysursa, who also made special costumes just for the group.
Whether Hartza will continue to dance together in the future remains to be seen. Some of the parents have said their efforts to bring their children to the different practices and performances were difficult. But the teens enjoy being together so much, that many of them are likely to attend many of the festivals anyway.
See Euskal Kazeta’s calendar of events for details of the event.
Related Basque Dance videos and Hartza articles:
Previous Euskal Kazeta Article on Hartza
NABO page on Hartza
NABO dance videos